Drones 'not match ready' Pilots' Association says

BIRDSEYE VIEW: Aerial imaging company Sycamore's Ryan Cadwallader (pilot) and Ben Forman (camera operator) with an unmanned aerial vehicle.
BIRDSEYE VIEW: Aerial imaging company Sycamore's Ryan Cadwallader (pilot) and Ben Forman (camera operator) with an unmanned aerial vehicle.

Unmanned aerial vehicles are "not match ready," posing a safety risk to commercial planes, property and people, the New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association has said.

The usage of drones, known as "eyes in the sky," is up for debate, with NZALPA technical director Stu Julian said New Zealand needs to adopt specific safety and operational standards for the new vehicles.

"It's a growing technology that will serve society, but they are not match ready," he said.

The NZALPA would like UAVs to be used away from people, property and other commercial aircraft until regulation was in place.

Julian's comments follow a similar call by Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff to think about regulating the use of drones "before they become a problem".

"Privacy isn't the only thing to consider," she said.

"For instance, there are safety implications with drones, if they can interfere with other aircraft or power lines, or if they crash."

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could be used to take video footage or photos from air, and are discreet because of their size.

They are already being used commercially in New Zealand, and police are said to be contemplating using them in the future.

Operators are required to ask the Civil Aviation Authority for authorisation before flying a UAV, and they are not allowed to operate in restricted airport space.

A CAA spokesman said under the Civil Aviation Act, the authority had to be satisfied that the operation of UAVs or any form of aircraft did not endanger any person or property.

There were currently eight authorisations in place, he said.

However, Julian said the current requirements imposed by CAA weren't enough.

"Normal aircraft has years of testing before it is allowed to be certified, we don't have anything around this category."

He said there needed to be requirements for UAVs design specifications and operational safety, similar to those met by commercial aircraft, before issuing authorisations.

"[UAVs] do not carry the required equipment to be seen by Air Traffic Control radar systems, so separation with other aircraft cannot be assured," he said.

"What happens if you lose control of one? Where does it go?"

He said New Zealand should look to the United Kingdom, which had a policy stating UAVs "must meet at least the same safety and operational standards as manned aircraft".

Julian was aware that it could take years for the industry to catch up with the new technology. But until a robust solution from design to operation was developed for UAVs, the New Zealand authorities would carry the responsibility and liability for any incident, he said.

Aerial imaging company Sycamore, which operates in Wellington and Hawke's Bay, has UAVs with fixed cameras to shoot commercial films and photography from the sky.

Director Stephen Davies Howard said Sycamore supported NZALPA's stance that more regulation was needed.

The company had met with NZAPLA, Airway's New Zealand and WIAL and "agreed to remain below the obstacle clearance height at the airport."

Davies Howard wanted to operate within the rules and law to be a "sustainable" company.

"Sycamore has since met with the CAA, ALPA, Airway and WIAL to continue to ensure we are able to consistently meet the standards highlighted," he said.